Using Food (or Coffee) as a Tool
If there is one thing I know about teens, most love to eat and you can buy their love with a meal. Well maybe not love, that may be a sign of a bigger problem, but they will definitely be down to meet with you again. Engaging youth through a meal can help to establish rapport.
The majority of youth want to be talked to like adults. Can you blame them? What is more adult than meeting for coffee? Starbucks is a good place to start. A meal can be too committal but coffee gives the youth an easy out. Going for coffee can be a quick thing or a slow thing based on the teen.
The first meeting can be awkward for youth and their professionals. Long-term system involved youth will likely be more used to random adults in their life; case workers, GALs, chafee worker, transition workers, mentors, therapists, and CASA’s are in a constant rotation in their orbit.
Allow the youth to pick. Allow them the opportunity to meet where they are most comfortable. Whether they pick a meal or a different location, giving them the power to choose puts the relationship on even ground. “Meet them where they’re at” is both figurative and literal. All youth are different. Most youth like the scene change from school, their house, group home, or the department.
Expert tip, use every opportunity during the meeting to connect. The conversation in the car to and from the coffee shop is a perfect time for rapport building. Engaging youth is a skills. There is something weirdly comforting about not having to make eye contact with an adult while they’re in the car. Those are always some of the best conversations. It reduces pressure for both people. “Some of the most profound life changes vulnerable children experience happen during ‘moves’ in the car, when vitally important opportunities for meaningful communication and therapeutic work arise” (Harry Ferguson, 2010)
Harry Ferguson (2010) Therapeutic journeys: the car as a vehicle for working with children and families and theorising practice, Journal of Social Work Practice, 24:2, 121-138, DOI: 10.1080/02650531003741553